Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Charley Ane One

The role of first-ins is misunderstood. People sometimes think if the first person to do something or be something had not done or been it, then nobody would have. For instance, if Alexander Graham Bell had not shouted "Watson, come here" into a mess of steel reeds we'd all be restricted to text-messaging on our Blackberrys.

Actually, first-in is more a matter of circumstance than being so far out there that you're off the GPS. Bell did the best job of summarizing the existing science and wrangled a patent for the lot. Fact is, several people not named Bell have a legitimate case to be designated as the Inventor of the Telephone. The problem is, of course, what to do with all the postage stamps in all the stamp albums.

Jackie Robinson was Jackie Robinson, but if there hadn't been a Jackie Robinson there'd quickly have been a Roy Campanella or a Monte Irvin. Much is made of the fact that Jackie Robinosn had the perfect temperment to break the color barrier, but Irvin or Campanella would have sufficed just fine.

Charley Ane was the first Polynesian pro-footballer, and everyone from Haloti Ngata back to Mosi Tatupu should give a nod in his direction, but if there hadn't been a Charlie Ane there'd have been someone else, as soon as there was someone who made sense. You can always make a case that sure, colleges should have done a better job recruiting American Samoa and yeah, the NFL should have made a better effort to scout the Pacific Rim, but heck, Minnesota was lucky if it could track down the best kid in the Iron Range every year and the NFL was too busy overlooking Otis Taylor to be bothered with Polynesia.

It wasn't conscious exclusion; it just happened, and it's still happening. Stanford doesn't get the best halfback in Guinea-Bissau, and the NFL's scouting presence in the Falkland Islands is mediocre at best. Just count your blessings that Charlie Ane was discovered in Hawaii and got to go to USC and was scouted by the Lions and got a chance, because he was a fantastic lineman, whether at center or tackle.

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